The face of the emperor in Philo's Embassy to Gaius

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In this paper I will show how Philo shapes his narrative in the Embassy to Gaius to highlight the role of the emperor in rupturing traditional forms of political representation, which anticipates later assessments of the principate but is surprising in an author usually thought to be favorable to monarchy. Philo should therefore be considered an important witness to the evolving views of a pan-Mediterranean aristocracy on the changes wrought by the imposition of Roman imperial authority. In constructing his narrative, Philo exploits long-standing norms of physical comportment associated with oratory and engages with the art of physiognomy, which was then approaching the peak of its popularity, by heavily emphasizing the visual elements of the political situations he describes. In particular, Philo uses facial expressions and bodily movements as markers of status and sites of agonistic social interaction to show that the unprecedented power of the imperial position, combined with the malice of Gaius, rendered personal political appeals, including his own embassy, futile, thus furthering the exculpatory purpose of the treatise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-60
Number of pages18
JournalClassical World
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Classics


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